Coming off a stellar performance on both sides of the ball, the No. 19 ranked Wildcats tried to build off their 40-21 win against Towson.
On Saturday, it was the defense who came up big in Villanova’s 31-14 win against Lafayette, making a big opening statement on the very first play of the game.
On the opening kickoff, senior Tanoh Kpassagnon scored his first career touchdown with a 25-yard fumble return to put the Wildcats on the board quickly. The Villanova captain and defensive end wreaked havoc on the Leopards all game long, leading a talented Villanova defense, as he tied a career-high two sacks, seven tackles–three of those for losses. According to his coach, Kpassagnon has had the interest of a number of NFL scouts, who have come to practices.
“Tanoh is one of those players where, from an offensive standpoint, you need to know where he is because he’s such a force,” said head coach Andy Talley, “In your passing game, you have to know where he is. He’s a tremendous speed rusher, so he had a great game. Their kids had trouble handling him. He was instrumental in the way that the defense played.”
Although Lafayette put up 342 yards of total offense for, it wasn’t able to find the end zone as Villanova’s defense kept the Leopards from finding paydirt, especially in the second half. Kpassagnon got some help from other members of the Wildcat defense who were able to contribute in a big way. Rob Rolle added a pair of interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown until a block in the back penalty erased the electrifying play. However, the penalty did not negate the impact of the goal line interception.
“Rob Rolle has come into his own as a defender and a ball-hawk type of a player,” Talley said. “[Rolle has] just an instinctive nose for where the ball is and after the catches it, he’s quite a force running it. You don’t get a chance to have interceptions where you get a big run out of it.
However, there was a defensive touchdown that wasn’t called back. Sophomore linebacker Jeff Steeb had a 45-yard return after an interception late in the third quarter, helping the Wildcats put the game away.
The play of the defense helped Villanova’s play on the other side of the ball. The Wildcats held onto a narrow 17-14 lead early in the third quarter, after a quick Lafayette touchdown got things going in the second half.
Villanova’s Zach Bednarczyk was unable to repeat the same success he had against Towson through the air, as the Lafayette defense applied constant pressure throughout the game. The Leopards only sacked him once, but the heat got to him. He completed just 13-of-26 pass attempts for 135 yards and an interception.
“When he had to hurry the ball, he wasn’t really in a position to deliver it the way he normally does,” said Talley of his quarterback’s performance.”Their defense had a lot to do with it.”
With the air raid limited, Villanova had to go to the ground game, which is where it was able to find success. Sophomore Aaron Forbes led the rushing attack, en route to a career-best 111 yards and a third quarter touchdown to give ‘Nova some breathing room.
“He’s been coming on as a running back,” said Talley, in regards to Forbes’ skill set. “He’s very talented. He’s a game breaker, as well as a between-the-tackles runner. He’s 210 pounds, he can truck it up in there; he’s going to be one of the better running backs in the CAA. He’s tough, hard-nosed, breaks tackles and has breakaway speed.”
In what was a close game for a while, special teams’ performances helped Villanova. They were able to block a punt and Gerard Smith, who has been previously shown inconsistency, was able to make all four of his extra point attempts. Additionally, he made a 37-yard field goal in the second quarter.
“With a kicker, it’s all about confidence,” said Talley, about his kicker’s rising confidence. “They all can kick, they all have good, strong legs. It’s all about handling the pressure of the game and about being consistent. I thought Gerard played as well as you could possibly play and looked good doing it.”
Despite notching a victory and improving to 3-1, Talley is searching for his team to play consistently. He felt that the Wildcats fell short of what they could be and that Villanova is “not playing the way we were capable of playing” on both sides of the ball.
He will focus on getting this team ready for Elon on Saturday, who is coming off of a road win against William and Mary. It will be the Phoenix’s Homecoming game, so emotions are bound to run high.
“The biggest thing is, we are back in CAA play and it’s a meaningful game,” said Talley.